Giancarlo Senatore: a focus on innovation in the public sector

Innovation in the public sector often seems more limited than in the private sector, and this is due to several factors.

First, in the public context, there is often a lack of incentive to take the risk of promoting innovation, resulting in a culture that is repulsive toward the concept. Moreover, when someone takes the risk and decides to encourage it, he or she may encounter difficulties and resistance in involving other members of the organization, because a critical mass of people willing to support the idea is often lacking.

Another critical issue that stands out is that, in the public sector, the success of innovation is often evaluated on the basis of agreed numbers, which may not reflect its actual impact. Recently, awareness of the importance of innovation in the public sector has been growing, and there are organizations that are trying to promote and support it:

Intellera, for example, was created to try to bring innovation and financial advice to the public sector by adopting a more complex and integrated logic in assessing impacts.

Face to face with Giancarlo Senatore

Innovation in the public sector seems more limited than in the private sector. Right or wrong? If yes, what could be the factors?

Innovation understood in terms of “bringing to the public machine an idea” occurs when there are two conditions in particular:

The first is to have people around the table who are willing to try. Unfortunately, in the public context there are few incentives, not economic ones.

You have to create the capacity to involve other pieces of the organization as well. Heroes sooner or later fall, it is the history of our institutional tradition. When you manage to create a critical mass around an innovation, you are not alone, it is not something willed by the individual, but it becomes the product of a summation, you therefore create a snowball effect that therefore cannot stop.

“For me this is a totally new world compared to what I learned about in my course of study. In concrete terms, for example, with your intervention in tourism, what has been achieved?”

“The success indicator for our company has been the number of projects that are joining and that have slowly joined the platform. We are paid partly for the implementation of the platform, that is, the IT solution that allows people to report and join, and partly for the success based on the agreed numbers. We financial consulting will help you bring home at least 30 hotel facilities, at least 50 start-ups or similar, such as small companies that are already structured and established but need support. All projects are then evaluated on the basis of their impact. For example, you want to improve air quality. The logic of the ordinary programming of European funds was I pay you based on the number of trees you planted. So the connection of improving air quality was on the quantity of trees planted, regardless of the type of tree and where it was planted, and you paid based solely on the number of trees. This is understood not to be the solution to the problem, because it is not only the planting of the tree that is functional, but it is also necessary to achieve an improvement in air quality through the type of tree, where and how it is planted, and what other actions you put in place to make sure that after the trees you have better air quality. Today, when you propose with the NRP, you are not asking for the best proposal to plant 100 trees, but the best proposal to improve air quality from x to y in the Milan area. After that, individuals will hypothesize solutions, such as reducing urban traffic, improving electric road service. Together these actions will lead to the improvement of environmental impact. This is the logic that applies to all projects, so also on tourism. In conclusion, we are evaluated on the basis of the implementation of information desks, etc., and on the overall impact we achieve by joining the initiative.”

You told us about how Intellera was born, I was curious to know why Intellera was born, who came up with the idea?

One of our motivations for founding Intellera is the realization that we, we, 14 partners of the old PWC, have reached out.

The idea has matured among us that a multinational Anglo-Saxon consulting firm deeply driven by audit logic, if you will, because PWC was born as an audit firm, has in its core business the things I told you and has lateral everything else. If the core business is audit, connected to audit are all the financial operations and so on, which are an important part of companies like those, then there are activities such as consulting for private entities, after that comes consulting for the public market, because that is the absolute furthest thing from the core business. So to come back to the question, the awareness of the strength that we had toward the market, in that we had many contracts, relationships, potentials with a huge audience of subjects, external awareness and the internal awareness that within the organization anyway we were considered as distant from the core business; the combination of the two led us to say “but why don’t we try? But what is the risk?” Is the risk that as consultants, we will not be appreciated? However, we were starting with an already solid foundation. When you start activities of this kind some sense of adventure you have to have it, because otherwise you don’t launch, but also then to have a base that sustains you for a while, that is, to know that at the worst you don’t really go the next year, in the middle of the road. So there were internal conditions, external conditions, and even perhaps the will to try.

When you have as much growth as Intellera has, from 400 to 1,300 people, how do you give a working method to everyone who comes in? I heard earlier that a corporate culture is not defined, I guess there are certain working methodologies, how do you pass that on to so many people, maybe even their first work experience?

There is not the absence of a corporate culture but the absence of a unique culture. If you joined a classic big four, one of the most well-known consulting firms, you would have a very strong impact to standards, procedures, hierarchies, rules. They are Anglo-American set-up companies, they have large numbers to manage and so they define paths within which people fit, and the faster they do that the more successful they are in these career paths-that is the typical standard.

We come from this setting, the initial 400 were PwC for all intents and purposes, and that structure, for the purposes of the reasoning related to the amount of people, has held up well.

Considering the question, limiting it to “how do you organize these people?”, that there was the strong point taken by PwC, because we already had an organized structure, already standardized procedures, even the same guidelines were adopted as before.

What has changed? Guidelines are fine for large organizations, but for small organizations they are very burdensome and often cage people’s potential (if I am senior consultant I can or cannot do things, etc…), tend to make people think that they can only move in certain areas and not in certain others.

To have unleashed this potential has been to move from within such a strong structure, albeit with rules, to one in which all cultures are accepted-more than half of the people come from different organizational habits, and so a positive climate has been created from the standpoint of creativity.

However, the basic infrastructure was with a solid setting inherited from the previous reality.

So you had an adjustment that started both from your facility but also from the people who came?

Exactly. One of the things that I say most often is that, what we call the Intellera Spirit, goes a lot through the concept of unlocking potential, that is, unlocking potential: people should not be burdened by the weight of hierarchy, on the contrary I want to know what the proposal is, I want to understand what I can do, and, if the proposal is good, I don’t care if it comes from the last person and not from the manager or director, who maybe are busy with other things and forget to value people.

Unlocking the potential is taking the cap off the pot, and very interesting things come out of that.

This was the mechanism.

Going back to the question, it’s not that there were no cultures, I meant there wasn’t that situation where if you don’t have a rule you don’t speak, there’s a mix of different cultures with a strong basic organizational setting.

How does contact between large and small entities and Intellera take place?

Commercial contact between entities and Intellera is made through tenders, especially for large projects. Below a certain amount, thanks to the new procurement code, assignments are awarded directly, but the general rule remains to have a competitive bidding process. One of the strengths of our company is the tender office, which is practically a design office: it concentrates all the machine know-how and takes people with specialized expertise from time to time depending on the project. For example, if an entity requires digital transformation consulting, it will request a bid, which will be accompanied with techniques and approaches used. The technical blueprint for a big race is a binder that contains the state of the art of what there is to know about that area. Different skills need to be concentrated, similar to those required for an engineering job: just as every designer must have specific knowledge and must know what parameters to include, for example, within a specification, this is also true in our field, that is the fundamental mechanism. Today we have a “stock” of awarded tenders of about 350 mln euros: if we stopped acquiring new contracts, we would work for the next 3 years on the basis of contracts already acquired. The competition is when you do the best processing of an object; it is very conceptual, “head” work.

Connecting to the discourse of work in the Public Sector, how do you overcome this reticence toward innovation and thus how do you convince “the machine” to change? To give a practical example, SPID which has certainly revolutionized the way public services are accessed, but has been much criticized by citizens and others.

SPID is a very interesting example, it took off with the pandemic, before we were talking about 6-7 million Italians with SPID, after the pandemic it was up to 35 million.

In order to get people to adopt these systems you have to create a regulatory condition, so an obligation, but in the case of SPID the obligation was already there pre-COVID and had only led to 7 million users so in the first seven years of SPID you were at minimal values. Instead, the key is a discontinuity event; it is sad to note but the current success of SPID is due to the pandemic. To go back to a general discourse, in the small of organizations you need the two elements, the regulatory enabler, and on this aspect there is already an openness to innovations, but you also need to create the process discontinuity so that a cascading effect is generated that causes the organization to change. Of course, it should be added that it is also necessary to have a back office capable of handling it all.


Edited by:

Francesca Calanca – Gaetano De Rosa – Giuseppe Delli Priscoli – Martina Moscato – Vincenzo Palmieri – Francesca Sammartino